Vladimir Nabokov

NABOKV-L post 0025225, Wed, 26 Mar 2014 11:10:29 -0600

Re: Fairy Chess Variants in Pale Fire
Dave, I'm glad you answered Jansy's questions, since otherwise I was going
to, and you know much more about chess problems than I do. I'l add,
though, that as fairy chess can have a non-standard board, the suggestion
that Kinbote's escape is from h8 to i8 (pointed out by Brian Boyd) belongs
to fairy chess. (I almost wonder whether that fairy move was the reason,
or the conscious reason, that Nabokov made Kinbote gay.)

You say that fairy chess problems may have multiple solutions as a
feature. Was this true at the time *Pale Fire* was written? And am I
right to think that this isn't necessarily part of fairy chess, since
having more than one way to force mate is common in standard over-the-board
chess, but instead it's a "social" phenomenon that multiple solutions have
been accepted in the fairy-chess-problem community but not in the
standard-chess-problem community?

When people take the idea seriously that a Nabokov story is like a chess
problem, they may still be right to think there's only one key, but it may
be worth repeating that much of the interest in a problem can be in other
"phases" of play, namely what would happen if it were Black's move and how
Black refutes White's incorrect but tempting attempts. Or so I'm told.
Thus finding the key doesn't end the esthetic enjoyment of a problem.

Have you ever looked at the Kinbote Task, the king-in-the-corner waiter of
the *Solus Rex* type? Though not a problemist, I came up with one once,
but it has no esthetic interest and has what I believe is a flaw, at least
for conservative solvers, so on a scale from 1 to 10, its score is negative.

I'll turn to a couple other things that have been brought up lately.
Carolyn Kunin wrote, "Not just the topology of the town, but the layout of
the Shade house and the layout of the Onhava palace (same place, as you
know I believe) have yet to be pinned down. I do think that there is enough
information in the novel to allow some one with good spatial aptitude to
figure this out (not me who am hopeless at this sort of thing)." If anyone
does either of those things, I'll be very impressed not only with their
spatial aptitude, but also with their ability to find the necessary
information. I could only find enough for some speculations on the
relationship of the Shade and Goldsworth houses and the landscape around
them, but I don't see anything for more than a few rooms of Shade's
house or for New Wye.

Alexey Sklyarenko compared twelve old men in *Ada*, one of whom may have
been hanged on a locust tree, with the apostles. I'll add that one
tradition says Judas hanged himself on a redbud tree, which is in the same
family (legumes) as the locusts.

Jerry Friedman

On Mon, Mar 24, 2014 at 1:30 PM, Dave <nnyhav@hotmail.com> wrote:

> Jansy Mello: I wish some of the Nabokovian chess experts would express
> their ideas about the link between "Pale Fire" and "Fairy Chess." I'm
> following Berndt-Peter Lange's hypothesis when he writes (quoting the
> passage again): "Life is here seen in terms of a game of chess between
> unknown players indulging in another one of its special forms, fairy chess,
> whose rules allow imaginary pieces to make irregular moves: "... but there
> they were, aloof and mute,/ Playing a game of worlds, promoting pawns/ To
> ivory unicorns and ebon fauns..." (II. 818-829)"
> It occurred to me that Charles Kinbote's variants (fairy chess is a
> "variant" of chess,)* related to John Shade's verses might be explored as
> being representative of a literary kind of "fairy move" ** in the context
> and structure of JS-poem/CK-commentary.
> [...]
> By coincidence, or not, there are a few lines usually quoted in
> association to "Pale Fire" that come from the chapter on "Exile" (?) in
> "Speak, Memory," the same chapter in which he describes his putative "fairy
> tactics" **** Perhaps the "ultrasophisticated" evaluation of fairy chess
> and PF's variants is simply one such wild goose chase, deliberately
> inserted in the novel for the enjoyment of a special group of readers
> (unfortunately my ignorance of chess is an obstacle to fulfil my hunter's
> instincts). I need Nabokovian help to enjoy this virtual (and misplaced)
> novel variant reading of PF's story...
> Dave sez: I believe the fairy chess analogy is intended more on a macro
> than a micro level (not that Nabokov ever neglected the micro, but by the
> same token didn't let it dominate the macro, more a matter of "making
> ornaments / Of accidents and possibilities"). That there are chess variants
> and text variants suggest there may be world variants. Fairy chess problems
> may also change other stipulations, including multiple solutions (not a bug
> but a feature). I've covered much of the ground in blogposts:
> http://nnyhav.blogspot.com/2005/09/nabokovs-theme.html
> http://nnyhav.blogspot.com/2011/04/reversification.html
> To some specifics not considered therein:
> As you noted, the Nightrider is one of the most common fairy pieces,
> extending Knight moves linearly. (It's fairly common for notation to use
> "S" for the knight and "N" for the nightrider).
> The Unicorn is an established fairy chess piece, a 3-dimensional bishop.
> There is no piece known as the Faun (the allusion is to elsewhere, C677-8
> translation of Marvell: The poem in question is "The Nymph complaining for
> the death of her Faun"; within the poem, reference to Silvio helps to
> establish Sybil (nee Irondell) Shade's identification with the pivotal
> Sylvia O'Donnell (well-connected to Zemblans and Wordsmith administrators
> alike), and the opening couplet ("The wanton Troopers riding by/Have shot
> my Faun and it will dye.") hearkens back to the epigraph by Samuel Johnson
> (by way of Boswell: "... Hodge shall not be shot."). )
> Not cited in PF, but I can't but include:
> Nostalgic King: "On reaching a square a Queen's move from its home square,
> the Nostalgic King must, on the next move, go home."
> Squirrel: moves or captures two squares away ("a Squirrel at d4 controls
> the perimeter squares of the rectangle b2-f6.")
> Hunter: moves forward like one piece (say a bishop) and backwards like
> another (say a rook).
> (quotes & info from Anthony Dickins, A Guide to Fairy Chess [Dover])
> NB: Berndt-Peter Lange doesn't properly disentangle competition between
> (a) chess players and (b) problem solvers vs composers. But the point is
> rather (c) competition between composers.
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